When ranchers learn their land has been condemned for construction of a new dam, they decide to fight.
When they delay the construction, they are promised a pipeline... but there is no intention of actually building a pipeline.
At least, that's what the title card reads on this print. IMDb, however, identifies it as New Frontier, with Frontier Horizon listed as an alternate name (Shrug).
The film opens with a prologue portraying the post-Civil War (Reconstruction period) westward expansion, complete with iconic covered wagons. A small group of pioneers discover an ideally situated valley, which they name New Hope.
Flash forward 50 years to the main story. The town is celebrating the anniversary and golden jubilee of their founding, when bad news arrives: "The" state (unspecified) has declared eminent domain on their entire valley, which turns out to be the ideal and only location for a new water reservoir, which a nearby rapidly expanding urban center needs desperately. The two men who come to deliver the news—a state assemblyman and a representative (and site foreman) of the contractor who will build the new dam—both have a heavily vested interest in seeing the people moved, and the project completed. The residents of New Hope do not want to vacate their hard-won homes; the rest of the film tells the story of the fight that ensues.
How the West was stolen, or We didn't save the dirty dealing just for the Indians
The New Hope residents are persuaded to lay down their arms when they are offered a land deal in a near-by location, offered at a price they can afford out their state settlement payments. The crux of the deal is the promise that a pipeline will be built to deliver water to the new location, which would remain a semi-arid desert without it. As mentioned in k-otic's description, this promise turns out to be false, and the land deal a swindle. The now homeless and uprooted townspeople have to fight once again, just for the right to survive. ("Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over." –attributed to Mark Twain)
We are reminded by the Pony Express ride scenes, complete with Indian warrior chase, that the West was already occupied when our settlers came, and that the occupants did not look kindly upon the new arrivals, having already had plenty of experience with the European invader. But we didn't save our swindles and land grabs just for them, oh no. We're glad that America was built this way, though, because movies (particularly Westerns) that are not filled with conflict are dull and boring, aren't they? :P
An interesting time of transition
The Pony Express ride turns out to be a reenactment, used to kick off the golden jubilee celebrations and remind residents of how things were when New Hope was settled. Fifty years later, the Pony Express was obsolete, replaced by telegrams. In the course of the film, we see scenes where the characters use relatively modern telephones with single handsets (in one case, it sits on a desk right next to a familiar old "candlestick" phone, so commonly shown in 1920s-30s era films). In the scene where the gates are opened on the finished dam, we see high tension cable towers in the background, up on the hills behind the dam. Power poles are also shown in a few other scenes. It's hard to say whether this was meant to be part of the story or if these were just the locations they chose to film, but it looks like their dam may have been a hydroelectric plant as well as a water reservoir.
I got curious, and decided to check up on some dates. Given its premises, I would guess that the film's main story is set somewhere around 1916-1920. (In the scenes that show newspaper headlines, the datelines are too blurry in this print to be read.) It turns out that commercial hydroelectric power plants were being installed by the early 1800s. I'm not sure if all the heavy equipment shown in the dam construction scenes fits the period, but the steam shovel matches up with historic photos. The telephones look a lot like the model that Western Electric introduced in 1927, which I guess is stretching the point a bit, but not too badly for Hollywood. :D
I'm not particularly a Westerns connoisseur (I certainly haven't seen them all). Nevertheless, a Western of this type (including the period in which it was made) that includes so much 20th century technology is, in my experience, unusual. (One of the things that I appreciate about John Wayne's "B" pictures is that they had a greater variety of stories and settings than his later films.) It also looks like they more or less did their research, and showed us technology that was mostly within the story time frame. Seeing this technology juxtaposed to horse-drawn buggies and buckboards, and to western saddle horses (no "Tin Lizzies," such as in Rainbow Valley, another early Wayne film) made this movie more interesting for me (even though someone on IMDb identifies this absence of automobiles as an anachronism).
Welcome to the new millennium
This film even includes a few minutes of comedy when Ray Hatton's character ("Pawnee Boy") tries to duck the matronly woman who chats him up at the jubilee dance. The scene can also serve as a nostalgic look back to a state of human relations that no longer exist in the US. For at least the past 20 years, I think that few men have been in any danger of suffering such attentions. Should a modern man attempt to duck out that way, he is as likely as not to leave the encounter limping, assuming he is able to stand up at all without help.
All in all
I thought the film was at least as interesting for its setting as for the story, the latter which follows the usual Western formula of the perennial fight against swindlers, rustlers, claim jumpers, and other assorted bad eggs and rotten apples. John Wayne is still on his way up, which means that he is acting in this film, rather than just coasting on his name recognition. Reasonably good quality print, too, with fairly clear picture and sound.
June 27, 2010 Subject:
Last 3-M film for John Wayne
Frontier Horizon (actual title New Frontier) was made in 1939. It was John Wayne's last 3-M movie as well as his last B western. He had just finished "Stagecoach" for John Ford and was embarking on a new career. He had begun the series in 1938, replacing Bob Livingston as Stony Brooke. Wayne had hoped to get the lead in Man of Destiny (Sam Houston's biog)and signed with Republic. When the time came to start the picture, they gave the lead to Richard Dix. Although Republic studio heads didn't want to admit, they realized Wayne had great potential as a western star. They released the final four 3-M films he made with the caption "star of Stagecoach" under his billing. These eight films would re-surface in the Fifties on TV and re-run movie houses when Wayne had reached his pinnacle of success. Phyllis Isley, who plays the heroine, would later achieve fame as Jennifer Jones.